FROM ONE SISTER TO ANOTHER
Voluntourism is not a new travel niche despite the fact that many are not familiar with the concept. In essence, voluntourism is the act of doing volunteer work in the community where you're vacationing.
By no means is this an essay on the pros and cons of such work; rather, I'd like to discuss what's involved so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it's right for you.
WHERE CAN I VOLUNTEER?
Just about every state in the United States and every country in the world have volunteer opportunities. That doesn't necessarily translate into "voluntourism" opportunities. You can help with conservation and clean water projects, disaster response, work with animals, marine life and wildlife, and teach children in indigent communities. If you're a licensed healthcare practitioner, you can use your medical skills in communities where accessing healthcare is difficult. You can participate in faith-based programs around the world or even help with research in less developed countries. Honestly, I spent a lot of years wanting to be a "foster mother" for a baby monkey - until I realized they were going to strap the monkey to me for 6 weeks with no breaks. The point is this: no matter what type of volunteer project you want to do, you can generally do it while vacationing somewhere.
WHO CAN VOLUNTEER?
Adults and children can volunteer but most often, children 10-12 and under are not permitted due to safety issues. Very often, church groups will formulate a specific faith-based mission trip, or healthcare workers and organizations will create a medical mission. There are many opportunities that offer family-based programs so that multi-generational families can participate. Very often, mature adults choose this type of vacation and with their years of expertise, skills and knowledge in so many fields, they are invaluable to the communities in which they serve.
HOW MUCH TIME IS DEVOTED?
If your entire vacation is devoted to volunteering, then you're likely working 8-12 hours a day on behalf of the charity. If you're truly vacationing but want to give a little time, there are organizations that will arrange this for you depending on where you're going and what you'd like to do. It's important to remember that voluntourism is not about you and your convenience - it's about serving the needs of the community that you're in.
WAIT...IT'S NOT FREE?
Voluntourism is not free. In fact, if your entire vacation is based on volunteering, you may pay just as much as you would for a different type of vacation. This is because the charitable organizations do not have the financial resources to pay for your accommodations, food and other expenses. That is your contribution on top of your time and labors. Most people that I know who have "voluntoured", have raised at least part of the the money through friends, family and colleagues.
Remember that you are generally going to be in indigent communities where 5-star hotels don't exist. Don't expect fancy or upscale...you'll be lucky to find moderate conditions. You'll probably find yourself in a hostel-type bunk bed, lying on the floor in a sleeping bag, or in a basic bed with a monkey strapped to your chest (sorry - I had to!). Bathrooms are shared spaces and food is generally served through donations from the local community. That's not to say there are not luxury voluntourism opportunities - there are, but you'll have to look for them.
I can't tell you if voluntourism is right for you. And, since I have not vetted any of the agencies out there that specialize in this travel niche, I can't tell you which one is better than the next. What I can tell you is that if your generous heart wants to do something different on your next vacation and volunteering is in your blood, this may be a perfect option for you. Who knows? It could be the most rewarding thing you've ever done.
I am asked about group airfare on a daily basis by clients who are traveling in groups. In very rare instances, group airfare may be the way to go, but for the most part, we're not big fans for some very important reasons.
EVERYONE HAS TO FLY THE EXACT SAME SCHEDULE
If we reserve group airfare, everyone in the group has to fly the exact same schedule with no deviations. That means Sally cannot fly in a day earlier and Sandy cannot stay two days longer. It also means that Sally and Sandy have to leave from the same airport and return to the same airport on the exact same flights, even if one lives on the West coast and one lives on the East.
EVERYONE HAS TO FLY IN THE EXACT SAME CLASS OF SERVICE
Sally prefers to fly in Business Class but Sandy wants to fly in economy. We can't do that with group airfare. Everyone flies in the same exact class which generally means the entire group is going to fly in the economy cabin. If someone in the group insists on flying in Business, they are actually removed from the group and pay the published price at the time of the booking. This also can impact meeting the need for a minimum number of travelers.
THE GROUP NEEDS A MINIMUM NUMBER OF TRAVELERS
In order to confirm group airfare, there needs to be a minimum of ten travelers - flying the exact same schedule in the exact same class of service. This can be a disadvantage when you don't meet the minimum and, if anyone changes to published airfare in order to upgrade their seats.
YOU DON'T GET TO CHOOSE YOUR SEATS
The purpose of group airfare is to secure space and so that everyone pays the same price. Unfortunately, you don't get to pick your seats....period. Further, the seating available for group airfare passengers is the least desirable on the plane. The airline will seat you wherever they want to even if it means breaking up couples and families. We have seen many times where a husband is seated in the window seat of row 12 and the wife is seated in row 24 in a middle seat. Despite all efforts, the seats stand where they have assigned you.
GROUP AIRFARE COSTS MORE!
Most people think that group airfare is cheaper than published air, but in truth, it's the opposite. The airline is holding seats for your group that may or may not be filled, leaving the airline to scramble at the last minute to try and sell those seats. There is a price to be paid for that!
Travel advisors have access to consolidator fares for international flights which can save you a lot of money when they are available. We also know many of our clients like to use points to purchase their airfare. In essence, group airfare is not a win for most clients but we'll be happy to help you get the best bang for your buck when looking at flights for you.